Cluster munitions are unacceptable because they are unable to distinguish between civilians and combatants. 

In addition, up to 1/3 of all bomblets fail to explode upon impact, continuing to kill and maim civilians long after the conflict has ended.




These submunitions intend to kill or injure personnel and damage material. One cluster bomb contains up to 150 submunitions. When detonating, the casing shatters creating deadly fragmentation particularly harmful to the human body.



This spherical submunition is approx. the size of a tennis ball. The steel body is notched to enhance the fragmentation effect and induce spin as they fall to arm the munition. This type was extensively used in Lao PDR in 1960-70s with many remaining unexploded, endangering local populations to date.

Anti-Armour and Dual Purpose


Some submunition are made to penetrate armoured vehicles; these are sometimes combined with a fragmentation effect, therefore called ‘dualpurpose’ submunitions. On impact, the body of the submunition is shattered to create a fragmentation effect, whilst the shaped charge can penetrate up to 10 cm of armour.

Combined Effects


In addition to creating fragments and penetrating armour, these submunitions also contain an additional incendiary element. A widely used combined effects munition is the US CBU-87 cluster bomb, whose submunitions can penetrate more than 20 cm of armour.

© All Images Fenix Insights


Due to the large number of unexploded submunitions left after a conflict, covering substantially large areas, clearance can be very costly and time consuming. The different types of ammunition used, and sometimes overlapping strike patterns can contribute to complicating the clearance efforts further.


Cluster munitions are mostly used in multiple strikes, and while an individual strike may be relatively clear to locate, overlapping strike patterns and pass of time before the clearance starts can make the situation quite difficult.


Many more years of work will be necessary to clear all the remaining cluster munition remnants in the world and allow affected communities to live safely and thrive.

Deminers scanning the ground in Dohuk Province.

Iraq, 2014.

© Marko Kokic, ICRC

A deminer at work in the safe lane that he has already cleared.

South Lebanon, 2017. 

© Marko Kokic, ICRC

A deminer is about to detonate the explosive remnants found during the day. Lao PDR, 2014.

© Paula Bronstein/ICRC

© 2020 GICHD

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